Surviving the Chuck E. Cheese Challenge

Danny Hines

Danny Hines • 9 min read

Posted Aug 14, 2022



I'm in a fantasy football league with some friends from college. It's a 12-team league and it's pretty competitive for two reasons. First, there's a relatively high buy-in so the winner can make a decent amount of money. More importantly, for the past couple seasons we choose a fun way to punish the loser, which is a really great idea until you lose. Which I did last season.

I won't make excuses, but if I did I would note that my team was perpetually injured and the bench is only 4 people so it's basically just luck anyway. If you're curious, here's my team from the first and last weeks:

week 1 roster
week 16 roster

A year ago, the punishment was the “Waffle House challenge”, where you need to spend 24 hours at a Waffle House and each waffle you eat knocks 1 hour off the clock. Two years ago the loser needed to put a giant sticker of the winner in their bedroom for a year (imagine this). This year, the punishment was the lesser-known “Chuck E. Cheese challenge”, where the loser (me) needs to spend the entire day at a Chuck E. Cheese (11 am - 9pm), eat a full pizza, and each 1,000 tickets you earn is 1 hour off the clock.

I moved to New York right after the season ended, so I delayed the inevitable and had mostly forgotten about it until the group chat reminded me last week. But today I'm doing it. I'm writing this from the Chuck E. Cheese in the Atlantic Terminal Mall in Brooklyn, surrounded by several small children and their parents.

The biggest kid on the playground

Chuck has done some renovations in the last ~20 years. Instead of tokens, now everything goes through a card that you pay for ahead of time which collects your tickets virtually. I started with the max 2 hours ($40). My goal was to get the highest tickets/hr, because I had 10 hours total and could knock off an hour for each 1,000 tickets. How much is 1,000 tickets? It turns out, a lot.

The hardest part about this challenge isn't the games or the little kids running around, it's making eye contact any adult. Most of them probably assume I'm a parent, uncle or employee at first glance, but recently I've started getting weird looks. It's not normal for a grown man to be wandering around a Chuck E. Cheese and playing the games, so that checks out.

When I walked in at 11 am, the employees were a bit surprised, and amused when I told them the rules of the challenge. I scanned the floor for some opportunities, and immediately one employee waved me over, opened the card scan machine and changed the number of tickets to show 29,000. “Take a picture of this and you can leave in a couple minutes!” I took the picture and thanked him, but I figured my friends wouldn't be satisfied with that.

ticket fraud
29000 tickets

The Best Games

My advantage is that instead of being in kindergarten like the rest of the participants, I'm in fact a 26 year-old man.

Some games are just that - games - and don't give you tickets. I'm not here to have fun, so those are out. It also probably wouldn't be that fun for me, because like I said, I'm a grown man at fucking Chuck E. Cheese.

The ticket-producing games are mostly a waste of time. You swipe your card, spin a wheel or click a button, and a ball lands in a cup or whatever. You have a 0.2% chance of winning the jackpot but end up with 2-10 tickets. I thought I had the timing down for some of these games, but Mr. Cheese has designed them all to all be slightly annoying in their own way.

big bass lottery wheel
winners wheel

Each game takes a few seconds to register the card tap and count out the tickets, and you often get a message that you're tapping too quickly when you try to play again right away. I noticed the delay was different for certain games, especially the ones that I wanted to play over and over. Well played, mouse.

scan error


The most fun game was probably Skee-Ball, which was also one of the most lucrative. A card swipe gets you 9 balls which can earn you 0-10,000 points, and the number of points correspond to a ticket payout. After a couple hours surrounded by little kids of course it's less enjoyable but at least it wasn't boring.

skeeball payouts

On average, each game was about 30 seconds between card swipes and I could get about 10 tickets per game, or 20 tickets/minute. I also scored the high score (twice, not to brag) which gives you 150 tickets, bringing tickets/minute way up.

The negative side of playing skeeball is the song that plays every time you swipe your card. Even with noise canceling headphones it was incredibly loud, and forced me to take a break along with the toddlers bumping into my legs while I was playing.

playing skeeball

Hidden Gems

The best game was probably one where you control a platform and blocks fall on it from above, and the goal is to balance all the blocks on top of each other without them falling. The reason it was so lucrative was that if you stacked 9 you would earn 120 tickets. I won this one twice and it probably came out to over 20 tickets/minute, but the controls were broken so you couldn't move the platform all the way to the right, and the physics were outdated which was incredibly annoying. The plastic platform that you use to control it was also gross, because, kids.

I probably spent the most time at an ocean-themed game where you drop tokens and they get pushed by a platform and eventually fall off a ledge, earning you tickets. One card swipe gives you 5 tokens, which you drop on either side, with bonuses for hitting virtual characters. The games were quick so I just put my card on the scanner and smashed the buttons at the same cadence over and over, getting over 30 tickets/minute. I was happy I didn't have to bend down like on most games, and it's incredibly satisfying when a bunch of tokens fall at once. I tossed in my headphones and played that thing like it was my job.

Almost every time I left, a kid or parent would start playing after me like I was a professional arcade gamer and knew the secret money-making machine. That, or because I would play for way too long and they were waiting for me to leave.

Ocean token game

I ended up buying an additional 90 minutes of play time around 1:30, followed by another 30 minutes to push for 4k tickets. In total I spent $96 for 4 hours of play time, and ended up with (an impressive?) 4,318 tickets. My head hurts from all the noises. If you were wondering about the pizza: it smelled worse than it tasted, and it didn't taste very good.

Picking my prize(s)

I documented the day with my friends via GroupMe and Snapchat. On the way out, I told my friends I was done and how many tickets I acquired, joking that that all I would walk away with a slinky. And when I got to the prize table, guess what I saw: a giant rainbow slinky for 4,000 tickets.

I told the lady at the counter that I wanted the slinky, and she sort of shook her head and told me nicely, “Sorry, that's actually $4.” She didn't believe that I had 4,000 tickets. I assured her that I'm in fact a god at children's arcade games and was good for the tickets. She looked impressed.

Then I realized: She said $4... meaning the tickets are worth 1/10 of a penny each. The mouse got me again. $96 for a $4 slinky and a handful tootsie rolls. At least I had fun.

Coming back on this later, I think the employee made a mistake when she said $4. The slinky Coil Spring Toy is $16 on Amazon so either prizes are sold at 1 ticket = $0.01 or you could make a good margin reselling CEC prizes on Amazon.

At the entrance there's an employee that stands by a velvet rope to people in and out, presumably to make sure you pay before entering and to make sure that kids don't leave without their parents. As I walked past her to leave, I said thanks and told her to have a good night. She initially smiled, but it turned into a look of concern when she looked down.

“Wait, you don't have kids?”

“Uh, no.” I said, clutching a giant rainbow slinky. “I lost a bet.”

“Huh. Okay.” And she moved the rope to let me out. All I could do was laugh. I'll never draft an injury-prone running back ever again.

I usually write about software, not... Chuck E Cheese. But if you're into tech or finance, consider subscribing to the newsletter.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Get early access to articles on tech, finance and more.

Totally free, no ads, no spam.